This is going to be one of my infamous personal essays that gets political right at the very end. So, stay with me. I will get to the Big Picture eventually…even if it takes me a while.
Okay…I woke up this morning to discover that I had no Internet service. At first, I thought it was simply a local outage, but then I phoned my provider — Suddenlink — and learned that I had been terminated for not paying my bill.
The kicker? To the best of my recollection, I never received a recent bill. I had signed up to go paperless and, before, had been getting it regularly via email. But, not this time. Maybe it went into my spam folder or something, but I haven’t seen it there as yet.
Also, I had not received any notice from Suddenlink that my service was going to be shut down–even though the company has my phone number and text info on file. If they had texted me a “friendly reminder” I’d have paid up quickly enough. But…they didn’t.
I then paid my bill via the phone and set up automatic payments so that this won’t happen in future. But I had to pay a late fee along with my regular bill, and I really felt that was a bit unfair. How could I be charged a late fee on a bill I never actually got?
So, I called up Suddenlink’s help line…and got put into a lengthy queue. I put my name and number for a call back, and then attempted to use the company’s chat function on its webpage. That, too, required a wait, but I hung in there until I got a company rep on the line, someone named “Michael.” I had just started explaining my problem to Michael when the chat function froze. It didn’t work then, and it is still not working as of the moment (10:45 am).
I then got a phone call back from the customer service help desk. I explained my problem as best I could and said I would like to remove the late fees. A rather hostile individual informed me that I had had plenty of time to check my bill before the due date and so it was all my fault, and there was no way the fees were coming off.
I asked to speak to his supervisor, but he said no one was available right then. He took my number and said someone would get back to me. They haven’t yet.
At this point, I was genuinely angry. The late fee had been annoying, but to be basically dismissed by customer service in this fashion was quite a bit worse. Indeed, it is inexcusable.
I suppose I will never see my late fee again, but I do think I’m owed an apology. I wonder if I will ever get it. If I ever do, I will let you know. But, it is rather unlikely, I suppose. Which is sad, because up to then I had been quite satisfied with my Suddenlink service. Now, I discover that it wasn’t nearly the company I thought it was.
Ah, the joys of life in the post-industrial economy.
So, I’ve been trying to reach someone at Suddenlink to protest a bit. I’ve posted to Twitter, Facebook, etc. And I’ve been doing background research. It turns out that the company is now owned by something called AlticeUSA. According to Wikipedia, there are a number of important names attached to Altice, to wit: Dexter Goei, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; Charles F. Stewart, Co-President and Chief Financial Officer; Hakim Boubazine, Co-President and Chief Operating Officer; and Lee Schroeder, Executive Vice President, Government & Community Affairs / Chief Diversity Officer. Also, according to some sources on the web, the usual email format for Atlice is @alticeusa.com. So, maybe I’ll do some emailing…or maybe not. Depends on my level of energy.
And I’ve got to confess, the level of energy is declining. I could keep complaining, I suppose, but I probably won’t get any satisfaction. And if I don’t, what am I going to do? Am I going to say, “To hell with your stupid product and your rotten service” and walk away? Of course not. Suddenlink has a monopoly in this area. It is the only provider of Internet service. And, well, I need the web. I use it for everything from self-publishing to paying my bills…or, rather, paying my bills when I know I have them (sigh).
This, by the way, is where the Libertarian model of economics runs into a bit of a jam. It assumes that there will always be an alternative…that you can always find a better product at a better price. But that just isn’t the case. More often than not, you’ve stuck with what you’ve offered, and take it or leave it.
Which finally brings me to my point. At this moment in our national history we are pretty much where we were just over a century ago, when great industrial combines …Trusts…crushed competition and ruled pretty much without restraint. Only, then, the monopolies were steel, and rail transport, and oil. Now, they’re in information, and cable, and the web.
What saved America before was the Progressives (Teddy Roosevelt) and a generation of Trust Busters.
If we’re going to survive now, we’re going to have to produce new Progressives, a new generation of anti-monopolists, maybe even a new Teddy Roosevelt…
Or, maybe, we are all Teddy, and together…as one…we shall bust the Trusts…
To restore our dignity and our future.